I’m so sorry I didn’t get around to seeing “Tomorrowland” in the theater. For one thing, the scene at the Eiffel Tower must have been amazing on the big screen. But secondly, and more importantly, this is a movie that says exactly what I’ve been trying to say to just about everyone for years: we can create the future we want if we will envision it and then work toward it.
I tend to avoid books and movies that have an apocalyptic or dystopian view of the future, just like I avoid most horror stories. But I’m aware that such stories are extremely popular these days. It makes sense. If you listen to the news or read it online, the focus is almost exclusively on what’s wrong, what horrible things have happened, and dire forecasts about the future. And it happens across the board. Doesn’t matter if a news outlet or spokesperson is conservative or liberal, they all focus on the evil being done and try to alarm everyone else about what might happen next. If anyone does bring up the topic of what we could do about the problems, it’s usually in belligerent terms: we must go to war against terror, drugs, racism, global warming . . . or rather, we must go to war against those who are perceived as perpetrating and perpetuating these problems.
Most of the people on social media seem prone to this kind of thinking, judging by the posts they put up and repost from others.
Behind this ideology is the assumption that defeating the bad people is all you need to do. It’s all their fault, so get rid of them and the rest of us will be fine.
History does not validate this premise. Kill Hitler and Stalin pops up in his place; kill Osama bin Laden and you get Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The problem goes deeper than individuals.
“Tomorrowland” presents a different argument. The premise of the movie is that back in the early ‘60s, a group of inventors began building Tomorrowland, a secret “other world” where money and power are put in service to the dreamers. The technology soon reached the point where they were able to create this world in “another dimension” contiguous with our own. Immigrants to this other world were solicited by means of little badges; touch one, and you had a virtual experience of the other world; those who felt drawn to that other world were then brought through a portal.
But something went wrong. Young Frank Walker, a genius solicited to join the new society by Athena, an android, builds a device that monitors events on Earth and predicts trends. And what it predicts is that the people of Earth will soon destroy themselves. President Nix (Hugh Laurie) of Tomorrowland banishes Frank back to Earth and closes the portal.
Years later, a teenage girl, Casey (Britt Robertson ) finds one of the badges (placed among her things by Athena) and gets the vision of Tomorrowland. Casey has grown up listening to the doomsayers, and in a short montage we see her raising her hand in class after class and asking “yes, I understand things are bad, but . . . can we fix it?” This is why Athena picks her: she still has hope. Having seen a potential better world, Kasey is determined to go there. With Athena’s help she finds the older, bitter Frank (George Clooney), who is monitoring the Monitor from Earth. Frank also sees that Kasey may offer a new hope for the future. After many adventures avoiding the androids whose mission is to stop them, she, Frank, and Athena manage to reach Tomorrowland.
Nix is waiting for them. He intends to send them right back to Earth. But first he wants to justify his decision. As they argue, Casey figures out that the reason why Frank could pick up the Monitor from Earth is that the Monitor is actually broadcasting its forecasts of the future to Earth and that this is what is making people so fearful. Nix acknowledges this. He is no Roger Ailes, controlling the content of the news people see so as to make them fearful and thus susceptible to his control. Rather, he began the broadcasts in a sincere effort to warn people of what will happen if they continue on the current path. He thought that if people could see the future, they would act to change it.
But the people of Earth have not done so. Instead, we have not just accepted but embraced this dark vision. We have done so, Nix tells Casey, “for one reason: because that future doesn’t ask anything of you today.” Changing the future means taking responsibility for our own actions here and now, not blaming others or expecting someone else to step in and fix it. We’d rather watch the apocalypse than try to prevent it.
Near the start of the movie, we’re told the Cherokee legend of the two wolves that are always at war within ourselves. One is our better nature, all that is good and kind and hopeful within us; the other is our worse nature, the one that fears and hates and lies. The one that “wins,” goes the story, is the one that we feed. Nix has come to believe that the majority of humans feed their bad wolf, so a better future is not possible.
Casey, the girl who’s always been willing to step up and do something, isn’t having any of this, and after the obligatory fight between the opponents, the Monitor is destroyed. But that’s only the beginning. Frank says to Casey, “It isn’t hard to knock down a big, evil building that’s telling everybody that the world’s going to end. What is hard is figuring out what to build in its place.”
At the end of the movie, Frank and Casey are talking to a group of androids who are about to be sent back to Earth to give badges to potential new recruits for Tomorrowland. Casey says, “We’re looking for dreamers. Anyone who will feed the right wolf.” Frank adds, “The ones who haven’t given up. They’re the future.”
That’s why I don’t like dystopian, apocalyptic movies. To me, they’re feeding the wrong wolf. I’d much rather see a movie like Tomorrowland that presents us with hope, with the idea that we can in fact do something about our own problems if we will only try. I like, as well, the idea that it is the young who hold out the most hope for us. If you can look past the fear-mongering news, there are more and more stories being published or broadcast about young people who are coming up with amazingly innovative solutions to our current problems. Just go to Google and type in “Teen invents” in the search box and see what you find.
I saw a cartoon the other day in which a newscaster on television was saying “what can we do about all the fear?” In the second panel, the viewer has turned off the television and is smiling. The first step is to stop the broadcast, which means stop repeating all the negative things that make us fearful as well. Stop feeding that wolf in yourself and others. That alone will create a space for us to start coming up with new ideas. (And if most of us refuse to listen any more to the fearmongers, how long will they stay in business?) Where we go from there is up to us.
POSTSCRIPT: I came across this quote today:
Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.
Amen. And you’ll find volunteering for something that inspires you and gives you hope is a terrific antidote to fear and despair.